Macedonia signs Nato deal after ending name dispute with Greece

Balkan state set to be Nato's 30th member despite Russian complaints

Macedonia’s foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov (left) and Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg after the signing ceremony of the accession protocol at Nato headquarters in Brussels. Photograph:  Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

Macedonia’s foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov (left) and Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg after the signing ceremony of the accession protocol at Nato headquarters in Brussels. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

 

Nato states have signed an accession agreement with Macedonia, after Athens lifted its veto on the move as part of a deal to change the country’s name.

The ceremony in Brussels on Wednesday paves the way for Macedonia to become the alliance’s 30th member – dealing a blow to Russian ambitions in the Balkans – once all current Nato countries ratify the accession protocol.

The Greek parliament is expected to approve the protocol on Friday, a fortnight after it backed an accord that drops objections to Macedonia’s bid for EU and Nato membership in return for it taking the name “North Macedonia”.

Since Macedonia declared independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, Athens had claimed that its use of the same name as a region of northern Greece implied a claim on the territory and the legacy of Alexander the Great, ruler of ancient Macedon.

The governments of Macedonia and Greece insist the so-called Prespa agreement lays the dispute to rest, despite the widespread unpopularity of the deal and protests by nationalists in both countries, and complaints from Moscow that the West is “dragging” another country into Nato.

“This is a great, historic day for all our citizens. Today, the largest security alliance in the world . . . has welcomed us. Today we sat side-by-side with our allies, at the same table, in the same alliance,” Macedonian prime minister Zoran Zaev said.

“We are happy, and so we should be, because we have provided lasting stability for our country. We have provided safety, security and peace. Progress and development are now unstoppable,” added Mr Zaev, who hopes to start EU accession talks in June.

Macedonian troops already serve in Nato-led operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo, and in 2001 Nato helped quell the threat of all-out war between Macedonian government forces and ethnic-Albanian rebels.

During a signing ceremony attended by Macedonian foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg said: “This is a historic occasion . . . We have waited for you to join our family for a long time.”

Afterwards, he said Macedonian membership of Nato would “bring more security and prosperity to the whole region.”

‘Courage’

Mr Stoltenberg also praised the “courage” of Mr Zaev and Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras, who pressed ahead with the deal in the face of sometimes-violent demonstrations and fierce criticism from Moscow.

Last summer, Greece expelled two Russian diplomats and barred two other Russians from entering the country for allegedly bribing local officials and using other methods to try to sabotage the agreement.

Montenegro became Nato’s 29th member in 2017, a year after uncovering an alleged Russian-led plot to oust political leaders that favoured integration with the West over closer ties with Moscow. The Kremlin denies involvement in the case.

Macedonia, a country of two million people, can now attend Nato meetings as an invitee while alliance members ratify its accession agreement.

Greece says that when its deputies approve the Nato protocol it will send confirmation to Macedonia, which will then trigger the name change and associated amendments to its constitution. North Macedonia will then inform the United Nations and other international institutions of its new official name.